We begin with the front page article by Francesca Jarosz, "Leaders: Change how IMPD operates". In this piece, Jarosz covers a new proposal by Council President, Ryan Vaughn, and Councillor Ben Hunter. Hunter Chairs the Public Safety Committee and is a former IPD officer himself. They have proposed a 10-point plan that they intend to bring to the Council in September.
But Vaughn and Hunter say their reforms have less to do with the latest tribulations than a long-standing culture of problems within IMPD.
"This is a two-decades-old problem," said Hunter, an 11-year Indianapolis police officer who now leads Butler University's police department. "People have treated the symptom but not the root cause. There needs to be a shift to raise the bar."
FOP President, William Owensby, who likely would have hated these suggestions had Public Safety Director Frank Straub uttered them, thinks
"Generally speaking, there are a lot of good points in this," Owensby said. "Some may be a little overzealous, but they're on the right track."
I have two thoughts tangential to the proposed changes for IMPD being offered by Vaughn and Hunter. 1) They may not realize it, but they are acting as leaders, in the forefront on the IMPD issue, and making Mayor Greg Ballard look weak. It looks for all the world as if Ballard does not have their confidence when it comes to IMPD, or they would have asked him to offer their suggestions as his own. 2) Since it is now clear that there is an issue of an errant culture within IMPD, the public deserves to have an outside team of experts look at the extend of this errant culture and propose changes that come from a broader expertise in such matters.
Overall, I am glad that proposals are on the table. But, without full disclosure of what the problems are, it is difficult to know if what is being proposed is a cure or a distraction.
There is also an editorial by the Star Editorial Board, "Angry critics target wrong guy". They try to make the case that Straub is getting it from all sides, when he has had little time to effect any real changes in IMPD to "carry out his mandate for improving IMPD ". This editorial comes close to talking about a cultural problem within the organization by saying:
In hiring a new public safety director, city officials said they wanted an impartial boss to take on the task of tightening police accountability and restoring public trust. At this early stage, it is clear Straub is trying to fill that role.
I don't know if Straub is the 'right guy' or not. But, somebody needs to be able to gain the trust of the public, and that is not happening at this moment. If that somebody is going to tick off the FOP, which Straub is doing quite well, then that somebody must have an even greater amount of public confidence that they are the 'right guy'. At this moment, Straub, with the help of Mayor Ballard, must make the case that he is the 'right guy at the right time', or he will not be able to be effective - no matter what his skills and talents really are.
Then we have the spotlight Letter to the Editor, authored by Robert Vane, with Mayor Greg Ballard's picture and name on the piece. In "We'll restore your faith in police", the focal point appears to be for the Mayor to say the things that need to be said to quell the anger over the Bissard case. To this he says:
The incident in which officer David Bissard took the life of motorcyclist Eric Wells and critically injured Mary Mills and Kurt Weekly is infuriating, disheartening and inexcusable on every level.
Officer Bissard initiated a chain of events that cannot be taken back. There is no excuse for his actions and the tragic consequences that followed. He has caused unthinkable pain to the victims and their families, his own family, and his fellow officers.
This is a terrible tragedy for the victims, their families, the citizens of our great city, and the IMPD officers who bravely put on their uniforms every day and dutifully honor the public trust.
My responsibility, and the job for the department, is to take steps to make sure this never happens again.
All that the Mayor said here rings true. Unfortunately, I seriously doubt it is enough to quell the rising anger. With the motorcycle community coming into Indy from all over the world this weekend for the MotoGP at the Speedway and the the Indy Mile at the Fairgrounds, the Mayor's Letter is timely, but can not match the swelling numbers. From my experience in daily conversations with a certain motorcycle enthusiast to whom I am wed, Bissard's actions are inexcusable AND serve almost as an allegory for life on the road as a motorcyclist. Wells, Mills, and Weekly were stopped when Bissard came tearing down the road. They did exactly what they were supposed to do in staying put. Yet, they were the first to receive the blame of the police and the press. They were the victims in more ways than one. My husband has always told me that the most difficult issue with motorcycle safety is that so many other drivers simply do not see them. For three of their own to be at a complete stop, obeying every law and tactical driving rule, to be killed or seriously injured by a police officer, drunk, behind the wheel, on duty, and then to be blamed for the accident -- well, how could it get any worse? They are all Wells and Mills and Weekly.
Just as every African-American is Brandon Johnson.
Mayor Ballard is in cyclone here. One of fury at current events of police misconduct and one of fury at a longer term perception of racial bias in the treatment of citizens by the police. This is where leadership is tested. Usually letting heads roll like the Red Queen, will begin to quell anger as it implies that the one in charge sees the exact problem and has an exact, very public, solution to it. But, that is not working in this instance. Now, adding to the cyclone, he has two fellow Republicans, Vaughn and Hunter, who undoubtedly are trying to assist and find a lasting solution, but who in actuality are taking the spotlight and making Ballard look ineffective at a critical moment when he MUST be in charge and absolutely effective. Plus, their proposal and the time it takes to get through the Council, will only serve to make the Mayor look tepid for another two months.
Mayor Ballard's military experience was as part of the chain of command - somewhere in the middle to top. Now his role is more like that of the President in regard to the military - the Commander in Chief and civilian. The leadership needed at this level is different. He must be in front of the parade, not somewhere in its midst. He needs to find a way here - and not just for his reelection efforts, but also for the residents, for the officers, and for the reputation of Indianapolis.